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Wealden Broadcloth

(1331AD - 1566AD )

In the early 1300's Edward I put a tax on the export of wool, which was one of Englands largest exports of the time. In 1331 Edward III decided that as most of the exports were going to the continent to be turned into cloth, it would be good to import some weavers from Flanders. The weavers mostly from Ghent were keen to come to England as their raw materials would be cheaper.

Time of Riches
Clothmaking had been practiced in the area since Roman times, but the material produced was of poor quality, not very well woven, and required shrinking.

The Flemish weavers settled in Tenterden , Biddenden , Cranbrook and Staplehurst , and brought with them the techniques of fine weaving, and of fulling to finish the cloth.

The weaving process started by the weavers producing the cloth, then the cloth was scoured in a trough of water with a wooden scraper. The cleaned cloth was then stretched on wooden racks to dry, these racks were known as tenters, the iron hooks which held the cloth were known as the tenter-hooks (hanging on tenter-hooks is an expression meaning in a state of suspense). After drying the cloth was rubbed over with fullers earth, a great deal of which is found in the area, then folded and hammered by a water powered heavy wooden hammer, which gave the cloth a smooth, non greasy surface. After this the cloth was stretched again.

This high quality cloth was in great demand and brought wealth to those villages associated with the industry. Just take a look at the village of Biddenden and its row of weavers houses, to see some of the wealth created.

The End of an Era
During the next 200+ years the cloth was created, and the majority exported into europe, however this was due to stop in Queen Elizabeth I's reign.

In 1566 an Act of Parliament was passed which prohibited the export of unfinished cloths, this was intended to create work and wealth in the clothing manufacturing industry. Most of the Wealden Broadcloth industry was centered around exporting, with only a few local markets.This banning of the export trade basically killed off the industry that brought great riches to the area. Although the industry continued and took about 100 years to finally die, its time was over, and this Act signalled the end of an era.

Villages Referenced

Biddenden  -   (The Maids of Biddenden)
Buxted  -   (The first Iron Cannon in England)
Cranbrook  -   (Christmas Cards and Union Mill)
Folkington  -   (Teasles and Badgers)
Goudhurst  -   (Smugglers, Iron and Forests)
Headcorn  -   (King Johns Oak)
Linton  -   (Cavalier loses House)
Marden  -   (Broadcloth and Agriculture)
Sandhurst  -   (Escape from the Great Plague)
Staplehurst  -   (Charles Dickens train crash)
Sutton Valence  -   (seized from Simon de Montfort)
Tenterden  -   (Centre of the Broadcloth industry)

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